THE South Downs haven’t always been used for sheep and sauntering. They were once used for military shooting practice too.
Tom Hollobone, writing in The Downsman, magazine of the South Downs Society, explains:
The first edition six inch Ordnance Survey map of 1873 shows a feature marked Volunteer Rifle Range about a mile east of Lewes.
The length of the range was 900 yards. The targets, or butts, were at the foot of the hill where Oxteddle Bottom meets the Caburn Bottom.
There is a photograph in the excellent tome Victorian Lewes that shows NCOs of the 4th Sussex Rifle Volunteers in 1871 mustering in the castle keep.
It seems highly likely that volunteers of this type used the range. They were raised as an auxiliary unit in 1794 in response to the revolution in France and concern about possible invasion.
After reorganisation in 1859, the 4th Sussex began the gradual process that saw them eventually become part of the Royal Sussex Regiment.
There were once probably a good many rifle ranges on the open Downs. One wonders what arrangements were made to ensure the safety of shepherds and walkers in their vicinity!
Pictured, the cream of the 4th Sussex.